The hot has arrived.
For some reason I thought we had weeks, or maybe even months, before summer came and yet here it was, bright and sticky at nine in the morning. By the time it got to be noon we found ourselves scrambling inside, closing every door and window in the house with a ‘thud’ and turning up the air conditioning full blast.
This is what they are talking about when they warn of summers in Dubai. When it is so hot you simply cannot venture outside, and your only contact with the outdoors is when you briefly dash from the safety of the AC to a running vehicle. Entire lives are reconfigured because of the heat. We tend to go to the beach a lot, people often say. But we go before it gets hot, like at 7am. (???!!) I have heard this refrain too many times to count. And, honestly, I didn’t give it much thought. Summer felt like a world away, since we only just arrived and had barely settled in. We still have three full months of school left and just came off the longest Easter break on record (Easter being the emergence of Spring which, in normal climates, drives people to seek the sun instead of run & hide from it). So when the heat started trickling in—and I mean triple digits and counting—we found ourselves grumpy and uncomfortable and grossly ill prepared for summer. So we did what all Dubai parents do and went in search of the best soft play in town.
If you have kids and live in Dubai, you are intimately familiar with soft play. You will know all of the soft play centers within 15 miles of your house as well as which ones serve the best cappuccinos and have the fastest Wifi. You may not know where the nearest police station is, but if it’s a scorching hot day you will know how to get to a soft play center within minutes. Soft plays are like giant indoor gymnasiums with throngs of mats and slides and jungle gyms that provide hours of entertainment to kids. It is one of Dubai’s finest inventions, and each time I visit one I kick myself for not hatching the idea first (I feel the same way about Spanx). The better ones are large and clean and spacious and even have a salon on site in case the kiddies need a quick haircut. [Random, yes, but amazingly convenient]. Because it was Easter Break, many were running special holiday activities where kids could indulge in various arts and crafts or Easter egg coloring or face painting. [Btw, Dubai is enamored with Easter. You wouldn’t know it considering the population is overwhelmingly Muslim. But they love their Easter brunches and baskets and chocolate-covered everything. Just don’t expect to find a Sunday service or much mention of Jesus.]
It only took me that first time to realize that the best part about soft play (other than how ridiculously exhausted the kids are) is that kids can’t escape. They have these protective gates up between the gym and the outside so kids can run and wander about without slipping out the door. Perfect for parents like me in need of low maintenance babysitting or a short nap.
I actually wish we had had these back in New York. It would have been nice on those frigid winter days to drop in on a 10,000 square foot rubberized play zone and unleash two overly-energetic boys. It’s the perfect antidote for cabin fever. But New York doesn’t have the readily available real estate Dubai has, and even if it did I’m not sure the concept would skyrocket the way it has here. I think it’s just another example of how Dubai tries hard to be a city that leaves people wanting for nothing. Whether it’s a job or real estate or a restaurant or some new form of entertainment, if people are asking for it Dubai will find a surefire way to bring it to them. It’s why supermarkets were teeming with chocolate animals and pastel goodie bags for weeks before Easter arrived. It’s why you can valet park at the gym, or get your dry cleaning delivered or buy groceries at the mall. This is a city that oftentimes feels like it invented supply and demand, and you can see the ingenuity and entrepreneurship at work simply through the architecture and the multitude of activities there are to entertain you (bowling and downhill skiing tonight? Check). It is yet another example of how Dubai can delight and surprise in even the toughest of circumstances.
So during a long and largely uneventful spring break, we practiced for summer by staying indoors and actually had a good deal of fun. I even bought a summer pass to one soft play space, anticipating many more insufferable days. Although when I complained of the heat everyone took to reminding me that it’s only in the mid 40s this week (C°) and to just wait until it reaches 50° (ok, I’m no expert on the metric system but that’s almost 115 degrees). At which point it might even be too hot to play indoors.